The Quickening

September 13, 2021

Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Excerpted from “September 1, 1939,” by W. H. Auden

The water at the lake where I work is diminishing in volume and clarity.  Realizing I might find an apt description of its quality in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” I toted my Norton Anthology of British Literature to work on Sunday morning to refresh my memory before visitor traffic increased. 

Coleridge’s description of the hellish waters of the secret sea was indeed apt.  “The water, like a witch’s oils,/ Burnt green, and blue and white.”  But it was his ballad’s powerful message that began to fill my depleted reserves

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all.

My hunger for poetry quickened, I turned to some of the poems by Yeats and Auden.  Auden’s elegy for Yeats brought tears to my eyes, but it was “September 1, 1939” that made my head spin.  Yeats’ “gyres” – that is, his notion of the circles of time – seem inescapably accurate when one considers the world from Auden’s perspective in NYC on the occasion of Germany’s invasion of Poland and how his first stanza could stand as a description of the cultural landscape today (vaccine mandates aside).

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Six months ago, as the covid nightmare continued its unfolding, I began reading works by Alice Miller and Bruno Bettelheim to understand the psychology of those who had accepted the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany.  I hoped to be able to explain to myself why so many individuals today were allowing their liberties to be constricted inexorably in the name of a virus that statistics demonstrate is essentially banal. 

One inescapable lesson I learned was that we seem to have forgotten what Auden, Miller, Bettelheim and “all schoolchildren” knew:  “Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return.”

My ex-husband, for instance, essentially a high-level administrator at Harvard, no doubt shares in full-on divisive hate fest that is the “vaxxed vs. anti-vaxxed” drama.  In this public passion play, we have been chosen for sides like school children on the playground with all the same non-reflexive motives as 10 year olds possess.  He would not see himself (or, more specifically, blame his parents whose families were expelled from Hungary after WWII for having been forcibly conscripted by the Nazis) as one “tho whom evil is done,” but his mother, as much as she might have loved her only son, would find herself in despair shrieking at him when he misbehaved, “You make me want to kill myself.” 

Trauma cascades down generations and pretending it doesn’t not only serves no one but traps us in the same sickening loops.

Just as Miller and Betteleheim traced the rise of fascism and the obeisance to it among the German populace from the widely practiced child-rearing behaviors at the turn of the 19th century, so we encounter a populace today so traumatized by decades of consumer culture that they are unable to realize that their freedoms are being curtailed because they were never truly experienced what it means to be free.

Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving is quite astute on this.  It’s impossible to choose one or two quotations to sum up this short work, but something from the end might provide a sense of its argument:

Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves.  All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton — well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function.  If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place …. Society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it.

Auden’s poem reflects this massive pain and suffering of modern man in this way

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

He, like Fromm some years later, sees the problem as one “bred in the bone” from childhood (“children afraid of the night/Who have never been happy or good”) —  that of craving what it cannot have:  “to be loved alone.” 

What this “love” comprises is manufactured by the culture industry.  Fromm delineates some of these notions of “love” that palliate our starved sense of ourselves.  As Fromm describes one typical scenario

Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their “personality packages” and hope for a fair bargain.  One of the most significant expressions of love, and especially of marriage with this alienated structure, is the idea of the “team.”  In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team.  This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee; he should be “reasonably independent,” co-operative, tolerant, and at the same time ambitious and aggressive.

Some fifteen years earlier, Auden describes what, beyond what’s served in the “dives” on 52nd Street, serves to minimally nourish people terrorized into accepting less that what would truly satiate them.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

The two — love and work — are the mantras emplaced by the corporate culture industry.  The form of love people are psychologically engineered to secure in a world inherently insecure is implicitly designed to get he employee back to work, buy the consumer goods, pay the mortgage, take up useless hobbies, train offspring to do same.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Because nothing I encounter can be disentangled from my personal story, I want to add that my copy of Fromm’s book once belonged to my former lover/best friend Frank.  At the memorial held in celebration of his life last month, his family offered books that had comprised his personal collection for attendees to take home.  Too many conflicting emotions were coursing through me to make strategic choices, but when I spied the title and author of this non-fiction book from a pile of poetry collections, I was compelled to choose it.

I have no idea when he acquired it, why, or what he gleaned from it.  But in his indelible manner, he highlighted certain passages, retaining the qualities of a diligent scholar even when it came to learning more about love and, perhaps, his inability to find surcease from his quest to find it.  What struck me most in these underlined sections was how he gravitated to those sentences that confirmed his own biases, not to insights that would have threatened them.  For instance, he was a man traumatized by his father’s lack of praise, but nothing of what Fromm covers on this is underlined.

I, like all of us, will forget, remember, and forget again many things gleaned throughout my lifetime, including my experience of reading Fromm’s brief treatise on The Art of Loving through the lens of someone who meant /still means so much to me.  But one conclusion I believe I will retain is that we tell ourselves stories about ourselves that, as much as they appear to liberate us continue to trap us into cycles of pain and suffering.  That is why art such as Auden’s remains so power if we take moments to return, to study, to reflect. 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

My Norton Anthology footnote tells me that Auden eventually revised this last line of this penultimate stanza to “We must love one another and die.”  I wonder, too, if he were alive today, whether he would say “There is no such thing as the State.”  Perhaps for what he wanted to say and when he needed to speak it, that was an acceptable provisional truth.  Maybe it is today.  I would love to have the chance to discuss that with him, or with my friend Frank, over some drinks in a 52nd Street dive today.  But since that isn’t possible, I will make a promise to keep thinking, keep returning, keep disbelieving my own stories so that despite being “Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair” I may “Show an affirming flame.”

Here is a link to Auden’s complete poem.

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Which side are you on?

July 26, 2021

Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland.  I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.

Adrienne Rich, “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children.”  1968

My best friend, who has been the most important person in my life in the past 55 years, died last June from glioblastoma.  If you haven’t heard of it, you will, as the incidence rates are rising due to cell phone usage and 5G technology. 

When he was first diagnosed, I thought of George Gershwin who died from the same fast-growing brain tumor on July 11, 1937, not having reached the age of 39.  We’d met officially on what would have been Gershwin’s 88th birthday.  My mental habits include searching for patterns, rhythms, and how I can relate these to art.

My friend and I remained connected through our love of poetry, music, and a persistance in trying to understand the strange behaviors exhibited by the human race.  We differed in more respects than I will ever know:  he was excellent at compartmentalizing – a sick joke if one applies this metaphor as a method of sectioning the brain and/or space/time (which may or may not be the same thing) and then overlay an understanding of what an out-of-control brain tumor does to this perfectly organized system.

As I prepare for the memorial to his life, delayed a year due to California’s covid lockdown, I have returned to reading poetry.  Honestly, it’s the only thing I can occupy myself with these days, as the growing panic of getting on the road once more (I am roadtripping it to Monterey) and of the approaching lockdowns presses down on me.  I came to Rich’s masterpiece the other day and was, as always with great art, taken out of myself into a realm of real values. 

Here is the link to Rich reading the entire poem.

I studied to be a professor of literature.  I left that life to become a disciple of humanity, choosing the road everyone I’d gone to university with was ditching as fast as possible.  If one were placing bets on my future behaviors, it would be safer to assume I would choose the more difficult route than the easiest, although I find myself consistently humbled by my middle-class upbringing which values, as John Steppling noted recently in his excellent blog post (“What is the Experiment, Again?”) efficiency, comfort and usefulness.  It will take the remainder of my life to try to wash those stains away.

This is to say that I would have been, in my mid-20s through my early 30s, more like the righteous neighbor in Rich’s poem, readily appalled by the burning of books, than I might have been by the burning of children.  Partly some of that would have been due to my historical moment but so much more was caused by my cultural arrogance, cultivated assiduously by the advanced university training and the hothouse environment in which it occurred.  I’d stopped reading literary works straightforwardly by the end of the 80s, but perhaps because of this neat trick, the high priestess mode of an ivory tower academic was not easily dismantled.  I was being trained to save the world through better reading.  Whatever the case, the world wasn’t ready or I wasn’t, and now the world is even less ready to take on the full import of what revolutions art requires of us. 

Back to Rich’s poem.  Should it be surprising that in 1968 she seemed to be predicting the terms of the current global corporate agenda?  Or are these reminiscent of the terms every artist has been facing for centuries when it comes down to trying to express human suffering and the choices each of us makes to face it/take it up as ours or to flee and encase ourselves with a multitude of rationalizations?

The opening quotation from Daniel Berrigan during his trial tells us that the issue is words versus flesh:   “I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence.”  The neighbor who loves books so much that he separates 2 young boys is described as “a scientist and art-collector.”  There’s an airlessness here Rich wants us to regard, a dusty mote atmosphere where even his “memories of Hitler” are second-hand, the corners thumbed over, like old photographs or library books.

The speaker too loves books:  “the Trial of Jeanne d’Arc, so blue/ I think, It is her color/ and they take the book away/ because I dream of her too often.”  But she also craves/remembers the physical flesh, “the hollows above your buttocks/ traced by my hand.”

But the unreliability of history — its erasures/oppressions — haunt her too.  “[F]anatics and traders/ dumped on this coast wildgreen clayred/ that breathed once/ in signals of smoke.”  The language we speak, she knows, is “the oppressor’s language.”  It no longer has a physical component, unable to breathe like a living thing, “yet I need it to talk to you.”

What happen between us

has happened for centuries

we know it from literature

still it happens

We can “burn the texts” because “they are useless”:  even though you’ve read about the experience, “you enter without knowing/what it is you enter.”  And still the words mean and the body does and the suffering continues:  “There are methods but we do not use them.”  The speaker and the reader and even the aloof neighbor are allowed not to know the answers because the disconnections embody what it means to suffer.  There is enough forgiveness and grace even as the most merciless tragedies are referenced (“flames of napalm,” “and to see a child without cloth it will make tears in your eyes”).  The questions echo like musical chords through the decades.  For me that’s one of the reasons I turn to art, a mirror to turn upon myself so that I remember why it is I struggle.

My friend got his M.A. in literature and then somehow veered into business due to his brilliantly compartmentalized mind.  Eventually, he developed and patented an algorithm designed to predict stock performance based on … yes … social media data.  The full and sickening import of this only became apparent to me following his death during which time the terms and conditions of the covid nightmare began to become clear.  I don’t know where he would have ended up in this new world order if cancer hadn’t eaten him alive. Perhaps our friendship of many decades would have ended in 2020 regardless of his death, just as all of my other prior friendships did.

All I do know is that his memory that lives within me is free from this turmoil.  He is now part of my dead.  As such, I have the privilege to interpret the meaning of his life and our love for each other.  I plan on doing this as ruthlessly and rigorously as possible.  I choose to believe he is supporting me every step of the way, just as he did for so many years.

In search of my tribe now, I dream of community, although I suspect I will always be an outsider.  The great protest song, referenced by the title of this blog piece, arose from the Harlan County KY coal miner’s strike of 1931.  In art, we find compassion for all that remains undetermined, but in life, there comes a time when one has to choose a side.  One must risk what one has accrued for no other reason than because it is the time and the place to do it.

Don’t read the news; watch The Simpsons

May 13, 2021

I came across this clip on a dissenter’s website.  Thank goodness there are a few people still resisting.  I’ve been resisting the dominant narrative all my life, so I don’t know how to stop.  I figure I can serve as an avatar for previous versions of humanity when the genetically engineered humanoids are getting injected with more experimental drugs packaged with nano-robotics.  I hated Bill Gates from the get-go. Smirky fascist.

I will be working this summer at Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, a BLM site between Taos and Santa Fe.  I am hoping to connect with members of my species in real time and space, contrary to the wishes of our global corporate overlords.  I have moved about 40 minutes north of Santa Fe (actually Los Alamos is a quicker grocery store run, hmmm) and am renting an apartment from members of the Sikh community.  They are okay with me having … my own thoughts on the covid nightmare.  It’s frankly un-american of them, and I like them all the better for it.

I finally received one of the 8 boxes of books shipped to me by a former friend who now informs me I was always teetering between genius and insanity. (I can attest that’s a more engrossing journey than his well-trodden path between fear and mediocrity.)  Last night I read journal entries I made 9 years ago.  It’s difficult to account for all the time passed, but what I can say is that it’s taken all that time, if not longer, to learn to forgive the human race for its inadequacies, an indispensable lesson. This past year has exposed too many as cowards who are willing to bargain everything for a few seconds longer outside the gas chamber.  

Being a traitor to one’s class/education isn’t easy or fun. But I don’t manage cognitive dissonance very well. I was trained early on how to reason deductively as were all those schmucks who are happily lecturing us on the deadliness of this “pandemic” while they swaddle themselves in masks, social distancing, and virtue signaling, and insist that the bottom 1/3 of the population deliver their food and other goodies to their compounds. When I try to imagine how these former classmates of mine (from the best schools in the country) rationalize their privileges, I realize that at some moment they decided a successful life was comprised of what you were able to grab with both hands and keep away from others. It might work for a little longer, at least for them. But I don’t see how their childrens’ futures are being served by genetic engineering, on-line and life-long learning, and the monetization of the natural world. Pretty old school of me, I realize.

I love too (sarcasm font) how Israel’s jumped into the fray. They are the masters of propaganda, so if there’s a diversionary dogfight, they’ll take advantage of it as cover. What’s the line Michael Palin has in Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

All the great art is going the way of the dodo. Instead, we are being force-fed born-to-be-coopted social influencers (read George Saunders’ In Persuasion Nation for a snapshot of this) through an entertainment system propped up by the war machine. Little by little our standards for what we demand have been eroded to the point where we happily tune in to watch others being degraded (Game of Thrones, Yellowstone, etc).

I suppose I should be grateful to still have a brain. It took a lot of sorrow and solitude to preserve the relic-that-is-my-self. I hope that I will be able to offer it in service to a worthy cause soon. We are living through desperately interesting times indeed.

a spring prayer

March 20, 2021

The process of death and the process of birth are very similar. The difference is who is waiting on the other side.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

In November I made the profoundly wrong decision to winter in New Mexico.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was choosing a state that would order some of the strictest government mandates that remain in place some 5 months later (and counting).

There’s a crummy walking path nearby that I go to less often than I should. Walking is my preferred exercise, but I’ve developed agoraphobia from encountering so many masked people outside.  The government mandate, unsubstantiated by any peer-reviewed scientific studies, states that one is required to wear a mask outside only if one cannot maintain 6 feet of distance from others, but people who are more interested in moral posturing, with its correlative gesture of shaming, cannot be bothered to 1) read the emergency order (which is currently being challenged in court) or 2) keep their opinions to themselves.  Today a bicyclist felt it was within his scope to make me feel ashamed for wanting to breathe oxygen while I am exercising.  The hand gesture he made to communicate his opinion of me as he biked away was contrary to reason as only men can masturbate that way.

Perhaps the only thing I’ve consistently found in New Mexico are a few healers who support my healing from past trauma.  A pattern that repeats from birth is my surprising willingness to accept certain other’s definitions of how I should behave.  By this I don’t mean government authorities, or any authority figures for whom I harbor a deep and abiding animosity.  I mean going along to get along with friends, lovers, and relatives.  However, given how easily they have at various moments shut the door on me, I can see now how my acceptance of their conditions spoke more to my loneliness/fear of solitude than to whether their scanty gifts served to fulfill my needs and desires.

It’s quite humbling to have more years behind one than ahead and realize that there have been only one or two relationships that truly supported me.  All of the rest were contingent on me not making someone uncomfortable with my opinions or behaviors.  Part of my healing now involves affirming what I value every day.  That includes believing that I am responsible for my health as others are for theirs and that human relationships should not be negotiated through the transhumanist terms dictated by such players as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Big Tech, and Big Pharma.

Moreover, if we’re thinking logically, it follows that If people who acted as if they cared for me in the past would only do so based on conditions that might change at any moment, there’s not going to be any benefit I derive from looking for solace in communities like “Santa Fe” or the “state of New Mexico” or the “government of the United States” or the corporate-captured global community that’s driving WHO and the global economic forum.  And yet that’s what I’m being told to do when I am harassed to wear a useless mask, shelter in place, and get vaccinated.  “We’re all in this together,” the electronic billboards posted along the highways hum.

No matter how many times it’s repeated, a lie remains a lie.  People such as that bicyclist have not have their worlds ripped apart.  They’ve been telecommuting and zooming, ordering from Amazon and Instacart, and putting a mask on or not being able to take a cruise are their only inconveniences.  Some, frankly, have been waiting a long time for some “older and wiser” figure who looks adult-like to tell them to wear a mask and give up their freedoms.  Freedom after all is quite exhausting.  Being able to choose your favorite yogurt from a section 3 yards long satisfies that dim yearning.

Perhaps at this historical moment there are more people like them than are like me.  That’s what the powers-that-be are counting on.  But one day that could just as easily be different.  If they think they are immune from being included in the next data draw of disposable humans, they are fooling themselves.  They are the one’s making the selfish decisions that imperil the rest of us.  “Straight words seem to be their opposite.” (from Meditation 78 Tao Te Ching)

Sadly, schadenfreude projected into the future is not an emotion that’s going to sustain me.  What I would prefer, as Dr. Northrup’s quotation above implies, is to have been born into a world where one is welcomed by a community with love and support for what one brings to the world – one’s unique self – and not marked as being a biosecurity risk.  Short of that, I’m still holding out hope that there are still some people who feel the same and that one day our paths will cross, maskless.

Honoring our ancestors

February 13, 2021

My fellow human beings. I have worked so hard to learn how to love you. I have observed you for many decades and wondered how you operated. I have felt the deep pain of your rejection and have been blessed with the indescribable joy of love and understanding from a few amazing souls.

From the deep well of the solitude in which I was cast this past year, I have been wracked with pain knowing how many of you were ill-equipped to deal with the loneliness you were needlessly asked to endure on behalf of others as well as with the economic devastation and paralyzing fear that comes with having no role to play in the world.

Now in my modest way I begin to determine how to share what I know is true. The few people left willing to pretend to listen tell me they are too busy to listen. Nevertheless, the truth can’t be denied: the coronavirus “vaccine” is an experimental drug and is quickly killing people. We are not supposed to know this; it’s “disinformation” and people who repeat this information will be ridiculed rather that addressed with scientific facts.  That science has always been politically used is what people have been taught to forget.  Google Galileo.

I am so distraught not only for where we are right now — in a trance induced by fear, a trance whose spell has been carefully choreographed over many decades — but for where we will be when the truth is revealed. How will people deal with the intense guilt they experience over injecting their children with an experimental drug that causes permanent damage? How will people handle the guilt of knowing their elderly were among the first to die in assisted living facilities and nursing homes from this injection which is unlike any vaccine that has ever been developed or so widely and rapidly deployed in the name of “getting back to normal”?

I do not want anyone to approach me in the years to come and say, “I wish I had listened to you.” I have no need to be validated for what I have to say. I also, I must add, have no reason to care overly since I long ago decided the world was headed too far in the wrong direction for me to think any more human children were necessary.  My family of origin is dissolved; my best friend is dead.

But people are dying from an experimental drug and I, for one, am not going to stand back and pretend I don’t know what I clearly must and do know. I want as many of us as possible to be on the right side of history.


A worker in the struggle for light and love

on with the show

January 20, 2021

Dear Friend. 

Thanks for your e-mail.  I’m still in Santa Fe with George & Chesapeake.  Besides the fur crew, I have one friend – my acupuncturist.  That’s not enough for a dinner party.

I’m pretty distraught over the crack down on free speech and the divisiveness on ALL sides.  Santa Fe/NM’s covid BS was extreme over the holidays, and I’m one of the people who gets psychologically rattled when I see people wearing masks.  So, while I’m glad I’m not back in my former la-la-neoliberal land where complex thought has been replaced with “yes” or “no” buttons, it’s not much better here as far as I can discern.  But one cannot cut through the bullshit when everyone’s been told to slow the spread.

I am reading War and Peace finally.  Seems an especially apt way to begin coming to terms with the historic inevitability of big pharma, tech, and global corporate gangsters taking over the last vestiges of our human experience. 

(Every Princess Bride quote is one small tribute to Frank.)

I am also writing a fictional piece on my NPS experiences.  More examples of communities where one cannot make insecure people feel secure.  I’m tired of other people’s fears being the threshold beyond which no one is allowed to go.

Life is a risk.  Even Tolstoy would agree.

I’m pretty sure none of this will make sense.  That’s okay.  I’m getting used to it.

Best wishes,